Newsflash

10,000 Small Businesses

Houston has been selected to join the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. The initiative, already in place in several other cities, comes with a $20 million commitment to provide loans to help local small businesses and $5 million in program and capacity-building grants to local partner organizations. Additional grants will be provided to subsidize business education for current small business owners. 

“Small businesses play a vital role in job creation for our city’s economy,” said Mayor Annise Parker.  “However, due to the lack of a support network, they often struggle more than their larger competitors and lose out on opportunities to grow and create more jobs.  The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative will have a real effect on the owners of these businesses, the working Houstonians whose liveli- hoods depend on them and our overall economy.  It can help keep more local dollars here.”

Mayor Parker is convening a number of local organizations to manage the program in Houston. Houston Community College will provide business basics at the classroom level, and the Greater Houston Partnership will help facilitate access to lending. The University of Houston Small Business Development Center Network will provide technical assistance to small business owners applying for loans and will be the key organization to package financial assistance.

The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Houston Minority Supplier Development Council will host clinics focusing on the most pressing economic development issues. 

“Houston plays a vital economic role in the United States,” said Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. “At its heart is a community of thousands of small business owners who, through 10,000 Small Businesses, will be able to access new resources from local and national experts to help them grow.”

Business and Management Education. Small business owners will have access to a practical business education developed in partnership with Babson College, one of the nation’s leading schools for entrepreneurs, and delivered by HCC. Small business owners will develop a business growth plan to help them increase revenues and hire new employees. Classes are free to business owners accepted through a competitive application process. Applications are currently available online. Classes begin on May 13.

Access to Capital. Goldman Sachs is committing $20 million of lending capital to Houston area small businesses. The loans will be managed and distributed by regional and national Community Development Financial Institution loan funds. These CDFIs will partner with local organizations to award the loans and build future lending capacity in Houston. CDFI loan funds provide loans and technical assistance to businesses that often cannot access traditional sources of capital and are partners in 10,000 Small Businesses nationwide. 

Business Support Services. Business advice, technical assistance and networking will be offered to participating small business owners through partnerships with the community colleges and national and local business organizations, as well as the people of Goldman Sachs.

Businesses interested in the business portion of the program can go online and apply at: www.hccs.edu/10KSB.

Caregiver's Life List

Being a caregiver can be one of the most challenging, complicated and rewarding jobs you’ll ever do. It is detail-oriented, physically and emotionally taxing and can require lightning-fast decision making that could affect the outcome of a person’s recovery. 

Nobody understands this more than Joni Aldrich. In 2004, the author and speaker became the primary caregiver for her husband, Gordon, when he was diagnosed with cancer. She spent two years learning the intricacies, trials and triumphs of being a caregiver. Most recently, Aldrich was faced with being the primary caregiver for her mother, who was battling lung cancer. It was those two experiences that compelled Aldrich to want to share her knowledge with other caregivers out there who may be looking for answers like she was so many years ago.

“As the primary caregiver for my 84-year-old mother with lung cancer, a recent morning started out pretty normal,” said Aldrich, author of the newly released Connecting through Compassion: Guidance for Family and Friends of a Brain Cancer Patient.

“Coffee, breakfast, medicine —all standard stuff. Minutes later, she told me her mouth, tongue and throat were numb, and she was having trouble swallowing. It became apparent that she was having an allergic reaction to an antibiotic she’d been taking. I ran for the Benadryl. And because I had some within reach, a possible catastrophe was averted.” Aldrich said. “Many caregivers don’t realize how having a few basic tools on hand can not only make their jobs easier but could also end up being lifesaving for their patients.”

If you’re a caregiver looking for a little advice, read on for the 10 items Aldrich says are must-haves for any caregiver kit:

• Pill organizer. Caregiving is a very detail-oriented job. And, for the most part, getting those details right can mean the difference between sickness and health and, at times, even life and death. With all the different medications, doses and timing involved, it can be a difficult task to keep it all organized. Use one that has slots for every day of the week and different times for each day. She says that most caregivers will fill their pill organizers ahead of time, so there’s also the added benefit of reminding you ahead of time to call the pharmacy for a refill without any confusion or lapse of medication.

• List of all medications. When you are responsible for the full-time care of a patient, it is imperative that you keep a list of all medications and their dosage information with you at all times. Make a point to update it on a regular basis, and take a current copy with you to every doctor’s appointment. You never know when the patient might need to have emergency medical care. Keep a copy in every possible place where you may need it at a moment’s notice (or in case you leave the house without it by mistake) like your purse, coat pockets and vehicles. Tack a copy by the telephone and the patient’s bed for easy access, as well. Share patient medications only with medical professionals, hospice nurses and in-home care providers — and only on a need-to-know basis.

• Good pill cutter. Depending on the prescription, you may have to cut pills in halves or quarters to get the right dosage, and a pill cutter is the safest and most consistent way to do that.

• Over-the-counter oral antihistamine. While treatment at home is not enough in the cases of severe allergic reactions, mild symptoms usually respond to non-prescription allergy medications. An oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), is a great drug to stock in your medicine cabinet. A liquid or “fast-melt” type of Benadryl can be better than pills, especially if the patient is having a reaction in their mouth or is experiencing some stomach upset. 

• Latex or non-latex gloves. Gloves are necessary to protect both the patient and the caregiver from harmful germs, and they can be used for protection in a variety of situations — from serving food to cleaning up messes. Choose the size that fits you and keep a supply handy at all times.

• Hydrogen peroxide. It’s a fairly well-known fact that peroxide is good for cleaning wounds. It’s also good for getting bloodstains out of clothing and bedding. You can soak a toothbrush in peroxide to kill germs and viruses. It can also be used like a mouthwash to help patients suffering from mouth sores. 

• Rubbing alcohol. While it’s also a great wound sterilizer, rubbing alcohol is also a good cleaning agent. Use a cloth with alcohol to sterilize handrails and doorknobs — especially if someone in the house is sick. Rub lightly over phones and keyboards to clean and prevent the spread of oh-so-many germs that gather on multi-user electronic devices (being careful not to soak and ruin the components). And while it’s not as easy on the nose as some cleaners, rubbing alcohol can also make faucets and sinks shiny and germ-free.

• Digital thermometer. Digital thermometers are fast, accurate, user-friendly and easy to read. Monitoring a patient’s temperature is important for keeping her  infection-free and comfortable. Have several on hand in the event one doesn’t work, you are unsure of a reading, or you can’t find one in the middle of the night. Plastic covers are an important add-on so that germs don’t get spread from patient to patient.

• Blood pressure monitor. Look for the fully automatic version that measures blood pressure correctly on the upper arm at heart level. The readings are given on a digital display and can be stored in the monitor’s memory. If you’re unsure about the type or brand that is best, ask your pharmacist. And, for a more accurate reading, have the patient rest for five minutes before taking his blood pressure, and ask him to sit up straight with his feet flat on the floor.

• Plenty of paperwork. You’ll need to have a calendar for organizing appointments, medical tests and a schedule of care-giving help. Keep a three-ring binder for storing medical test results in one cohesive place; patient notes are critical for doctor’s visits, particularly when there are multiple caregivers. Have all pertinent phone numbers posted near every phone. 

“While being a caregiver is one of the most challenging experiences of my life, it has also been one of the most rewarding,” Aldrich said. “Having the support of others who have been there can be a huge help. Do your research, plan ahead, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The peace of mind you’ll get from being prepared is one of the most precious gifts you can give yourself as a caregiver.”

Girl Scouts nearly 100

convention2011-B-smThe Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council will kick off the 2012 centennial year of Girl Scouts by hosting the organization’s national convention here in Houston. The big event will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center, and an estimated 25,000 girls and adults are expected to attend.

Other celebrations throughout the 2012 centennial year will include the release of a commemorative coin, a sing-along on the Mall in Washington, D.C., a float in the Rose Parade and a nationwide Take Action project called Forever Green. 

Serving 76,000 girls with 18,000 volunteers in a 26-county area, the GSSJC is now the largest Girl Scout council in the United States. It is committed to giving every Girl Scout the chance to discover the leader she can be through a variety of activities and programs. It's no surprise that many of Houston's most successful women and many in key leadership roles were once Girl Scouts themselves. Leadership is one of the key lessons Rosi Hernandez, vice president of corporate partnerships for the Houston Astros, took away from her years as a Girl Scout growing up in Puerto Rico. According to Hernandez, learning real survival skills at camp was a great experience for a Catholic school girl who grew up in a comfortable environment.

In high school, Hernandez earned the Gold Award, Girl Scouts' highest honor, for a project she developed to promote tourism in Puerto Rico. 

“It was really something that stood out on my resume and my college application,” says Hernandez, who now holds a master's degree in public relations and marketing.

She has served on the GSSJC Board of Directors since 2005 and is committed to advancing the Gold Award Program as the equivalent of the Eagle Scout Award  so many male CEOs of U.S. companies earned in their Boy Scout days. In addition to leadership, Girl Scouting helps develop character, confidence, self-esteem, community awareness and the strength to remain “above the fray” and resistant to peer pressures, Hernandez said. Entrepreneurship is another key lesson, she adds, admitting she was “ridiculously competitive” when it came to cookie sales. 

Houston native Gloria Vittone Echeverria, now working toward her Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, also earned the Gold Award while attending Langham Creek High School.  Her project was the development of an audio cassette  library chronicling the interesting life stories of people in her community.  

Girl Scouts — especially the Gold Award projects — gives girls the confidence to tackle a large project, break it into manageable steps, and see it through to the end, she said. Today, she continues to give back to scouting through a committee called Science, Technology, Engineering and Mechanics which is composed of professionals who develop programs for girls, such as You Be the Scientist. There, girls get to snap on rubber gloves and work with lab equipment and mentors who show them how to test and evaluate a scientific hypothesis. More importantly, they learn science is fun and accessible, Echeverria said. 

“It’s nice for the girls to have a young adult role model to look up to — not an old man with a beard and a scary lab coat,” Echeverria continued. 

Another active STEM volunteer is Vicki Freeman, Ph.D., chair and teaching professor in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at The University of Texas Medical Branch. She was a Girl Scout throughout her formative years, but also a campus Girl Scout when she went to college. Later on she became a troop mother/helper when her oldest daughter joined the Brownies. The family even participated in Girl Guides in the UK when her husband was assigned to a British Air Force Base. It was when she came to Texas that Freeman read about the correlation between girls’ math and science scores and their self-esteem in middle school.

“It’s not cool to like science and math at that age, so girls back away from it,” she said. “STEM helps encourage them to believe they can do math and science and shows them that there are careers that use those skills.” 

Today, both of Freeman’s daughters, Wendy and Dawn, are grown, having both attained Gold Awards as Girl Scouts and now employed in fields requiring a strong math and science acumen.

Marguerite Woung-Chapman, El Paso Corporation's vice president, secretary, and chief governance officer at El Paso Corporation, has served on the board of GSSJC since 2008. Although she was not a Girl Scout as a child, she became a volunteer in her daughter’s troop, and later became an adult member herself. Girl Scouts helped create a bridge between her daughter and herself and opened up a meaningful dialogue between them, she said. 

“There is a misperception that scouting is all about camping and crafts, but it’s more than that," she said. “Girl Scouting creates an environment that enables girls to become leaders. They gain a real awareness of their community and then, as young adults, they are motivated to go out and serve their community’s needs.” 

Woung-Chapman says Houston is the perfect place to begin the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary festivities. 

“It’s a great honor for the San Jacinto Council to be selected as the host, but I think it also says a lot about Houston. Our population really represents the face of America’s future. Houston is the perfect microcosm of what the next 100 years of Girl Scouts is going to look like,” she said.

Economy on Rise

houskylineWhile the Federal Reserve's survey of economic conditions released on January 5 revealed some positive signs that the rest of the country is pulling out of the recession, local economic experts say Houston was already on the road to recovery months ago. The Fed’s report included optimistic highlights, such as an anticipated increase in hiring in 2011, along with better-than-expected holiday sales figures, a boost in U.S. factories’ production, a growing demand for automobiles and high-tech equipment.

The Fed's report also indicates U.S. businesses no longer fear a double-dip in the recession, as opposed to how they responded to surveys conducted over the summer. 

“Houston started to see improvement in the economy as far back as the late spring and early summer of 2009,” said Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership. “Some of the indicators were the Purchasing Manager’s Index, which started to improve in March; the rig count started to improve in June; airport passenger traffic began to rise in August; and automobile sales started to  improve in December.”

New jobs expected
Nationally, a fourth-quarter poll of companies by the National Association for Business Economics brought good news on hiring, reported in late January. Of 84 companies surveyed,  half reported that they expected to increase jobs in the next six months. That figure is up from less than a third in the first quarter of 2010. The GHP’s 2011 Employment Forecast suggests the region will add 23,300 private sector jobs in 2011, but the improvement will be tempered by the loss of 5,100 public sector jobs, for a net gain of 18,200 jobs. The numbers have been improving for a year.

“We did not see real improvement in the job numbers until February 2010,” Jankowski says. “The low point in employment in the Houston region was January 2010. Starting in February, it began trending up.”

“We’ve added more jobs over the last 12 months than we have previously. We are at a higher level of employment than we were last year,” Jankowski says. “Throughout the recession, there were two sectors that never lost jobs: one is oil and gas exploration and the other is health care. From the peak to the trough, through the worst part of the recession, the Houston economy actually added about 2,000 jobs in oil and gas exploration. If you look at health care, we actually added about 21,000 jobs.” 

Holiday retail sales up
While the rest of the country's retailers reported strong holiday sales, Jankowski is cautious about evaluating how the local market fared until the Comptroller's official report is released, and those numbers are typically nine months behind, he says. However, a fairly accurate indicator is sales tax collections, which were up 13 percent in Houston in November 2010, and that stat suggests holiday shoppers were not afraid to open their pocketbooks this past season. “That's still down from November 2008,” he adds. “In Sugar Land for the same period, they were up 5.6 percent and 7.6 percent in Pearland. 

Real Estate
After six months of declining sales, the Houston residential real estate market also closed 2010 with signs of improvement, according to the Houston Association of Realtors. Prices of single-family homes continued to rise and positive sales activity was recorded in three of the five segments of the housing market, with the $150,000 to $250,000 segment experiencing its first growth since last May. The average price of a single-family home edged up 2.2 percent from December 2009 to $221,613,  while the December 2010 single-family home median price rose 4.0 percent from one year earlier to $157,500. Foreclosure property sales reported in the Multiple Listing Service declined 14.3 percent in December compared to one year earlier. The multi-family housing market also has a very optimistic outlook, according to Holly Minter, executive vice president in CBRE’s Capital Markets Debt and Equity Finance Group.

“Apartments seem to be leading the recovery here in Houston,”  said Minter. “The year 2010 ended up being a really good one  for multi-family housing.”

Demand for new apartments is really high right now, especially with the anticipation of job growth, she said. Only 2,000 new units are expected to be delivered in 2011 and 2012, and CBRE's research indicates that as many as 50,000 new jobs may be created. Estimating that one apartment is leased for every four jobs created, there will be a demand for at least 10,000 units, Minter said. CBRE’s reports on commercial real estate indicate levels of new construction remain low, but predict build-to-suit activity may increase in 2011 as companies address expansions or upgrades. The overall vacancy rate of commercial space dipped slightly in the fourth quarter of 2010, to 6.5 percent compared to 6.7 percent in the third quarter. 

Optimism and Work Ethic
“There’s nothing structurally wrong with Houston’s economy,” says Jankowski. “We don’t have to reinvent our business model. We know how to find and produce energy. We know how to build refineries and chemical plants and roads and bridges. We know how to handle international trade. All we need is for the economy to start growing again.” 

And, as signs are now pointing toward that growth in 2011. Meanwhile, although  no one can draw a conclusive line between Houston's ability to rise above the recession and the innate optimism and strong work ethic of its population, statistical evidence confirms the latter in Rice University’s annual Houston Area Survey for 2010. 

“We do the survey in February of each year, and so last February, things were not so good,”  says Dr. Stephen Klineberg. “There were no great signs of economic recovery around the country. There was growing economic anxiety.” Still, the response to one question on the survey stands out. “The fundamental ideological question says, ‘If you work hard in this city, eventually you will succeed,’” Klineberg explains.

An astonishing 87 percent of respondents agreed with that statement. 

“It does reflect a kind of a can-do spirit,” Klineberg says.

Ask the same question of the rest of the nation and the response is typically about 50 or 60 percent agreement, says Jankowski. “One reason people come here is they know that if they work hard, it will pay off. It sounds kind of corny, but in a way, the American dream still exists in Houston.” 

TIRR improving lives

ZW2L7533Shortly after the tragedy in Tucson, eyes turned to Houston at the news U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords would be completing rehabilitation at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research Memorial Hermann.

TIRR has long been recognized as one of the nation’s leading rehabilitation hospitals. TIRR is one of only six hospitals in the country to be designated as a Model System by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research for its Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Programs. The 119-bed facility serves as a teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Medical School. 

A range of disabilities are treated at TIRR, including brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple trauma and amputation, and offers rehabilitative care for people dealing with a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Since 1959, TIRR has “changed lives by improving outcomes, offering hope and maximizing independence for those impacted by disabling injury or illness.”

Brain injuries can occur as a result of trauma, as in Rep. Giffords’ case, a tumor, disease or stroke. Dr. Gerard Francisco, Chief Medical Officer at TIRR and a member of Rep. Giffords’ treatment team, notes that each part of the brain is responsible for a particular ability, such as moving, thinking, speaking or swallowing. Survivors of these injuries suffer impairments of speech, sight or movement because the areas of the brain that control these functions have been damaged. Dr. Francisco says many of the patients at TIRR have a combination of impairments because multiple areas of the brain have been affected by trauma. 

Once admitted, patients are assigned a treatment team of doctors, nurses and therapists who works together – each individual therapy session facilitates the goals of the other therapists. It is a concerted effort between the various therapists; comprehensive interdisciplinary care is the standard at TIRR. Patients have various sessions each day.

The physical therapist works with the legs. An occupational therapist is charged with the needs of the upper limbs are met and working with patients on activities of daily living — brushing teeth, dressing, combing hair and showering. Speech pathologists are in charge of assessing and treating problems with swallowing and speaking. Other therapists support these, including music therapists, neuropsychologists and recreation specialists.  

Dr. Francisco elaborates with the example of music therapy.

“The music therapist might work with a speech therapist in helping the patient speak better. Even though the speech center of the brain is on the left side, the right side of the brain, which responds quite well to music, can be stimulated by music and help with recovery of the part damaged on the left side,” he said.

Dr. Karen Hirschi, professor of pediatrics and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College     of Medicine, is the principal investigator of the NIH Quantum Project, a collaborative effort of scientists at Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine and several United Kingdom institutions aimed at researching regenerative medicine for brain trauma. 

“We are trying to develop strategies to promote parallel regeneration of blood vessels and nerves, which are needed for functional repair of the brain,” she said. “If you can regenerate these, you can perhaps restore functional deficits that happen when tissue is lost.” 

In the rat model, the research team has been able, through cell therapy and bioengineering strategies, to regenerate the tissue in fluid-filled cavities of the brain that result when part of the brain dies and withers after stroke. Dr. Hirschi says the success of these findings in human subjects would possibly restore function that had been lost by injury and improve a patient’s quality of life. Each patient is unique and, based on the injuries, care needs will be different, and his treatment program customized specifically for him.

The average hospital stay for brain injury patients is between one to six weeks, depending on needs. TIRR also trains family members and caregivers so when patients go home, they will be able to carry out the rehabilitation program started at the hospital. 

“Rehab doesn’t stop once the patient has been discharged from the hospital,” Dr. Francisco said. “Rehab is a long-term process, and any hospital stay is just one phase of that process.”

Football player Kevin Everett received treatment after suffering a spinal cord injury in 2007. Paralyzed from the neck down when he arrived at TIRR, he can now walk.

Representative Giffords’ family chose a rehabilitation facility that would provide her the best rehabilitative care for her injuries. Members can rest assured knowing her care is in the hands of some of the world’s leading rehabilitation medicine physicians. 

TIRR also offers a child/adolescent rehabilitation program, specialized treatments, including a wheelchair seating and mobility program, a physician and specialty clinic and an outpatient facility.

For admission information, call 713-797-5942 or go online to www.tirr.org.

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